OpenStack Stein launches with improved Kubernetes support

The OpenStack project, which powers more than 75 public and thousands of private clouds, launched the 19th version of its software this week. You’d think that after 19 updates to the open-source infrastructure platform, there really isn’t all that much new the various project teams could add, given that we’re talking about a rather stable code base here. There are actually a few new features in this release, though, as well as all the usual tweaks and feature improvements you’d expect.

While the hype around OpenStack has died down, we’re still talking about a very active open-source project. On average, there were 155 commits per day during the Stein development cycle. As far as development activity goes, that keeps OpenStack on the same level as the Linux kernel and Chromium.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of that development activity focused on Kubernetes and the tools to manage these container clusters. With this release, the team behind the OpenStack Kubernetes installer brought the launch time for a cluster down from about 10 minutes to five, regardless of the number of nodes. To further enhance Kubernetes support, OpenStack Stein also includes updates to Neutron, the project’s networking service, which now makes it easier to create virtual networking ports in bulk as containers are spun up, and Ironic, the bare-metal provisioning service.

All of that is no surprise, given that according to the project’s latest survey, 61 percent of OpenStack deployments now use both Kubernetes and OpenStack in tandem.

The update also includes a number of new networking features that are mostly targeted at the many telecom users. Indeed, over the course of the last few years, telcos have emerged as some of the most active OpenStack users as these companies are looking to modernize their infrastructure as part of their 5G rollouts.

Besides the expected updates, though, there are also a few new and improved projects here that are worth noting.

“The trend from the last couple of releases has been on scale and stability, which is really focused on operations,” OpenStack Foundation executive director Jonathan Bryce told me. “The new projects — and really most of the new projects from the last year — have all been pretty oriented around real-world use cases.”

The first of these is Placement. “As people build a cloud and start to grow it and it becomes more broadly adopted within the organization, a lot of times, there are other requirements that come into play,” Bryce explained. “One of these things that was pretty simplistic at the beginning was how a request for a resource was actually placed on the underlying infrastructure in the data center.” But as users get more sophisticated, they often want to run specific workloads on machines with certain hardware requirements. These days, that’s often a specific GPU for a machine learning workload, for example. With Placement, that’s a bit easier now.

It’s worth noting that OpenStack had some of this functionality before. The team, however, decided to uncouple it from the existing compute service and turn it into a more generic service that could then also be used more easily beyond the compute stack, turning it more into a kind of resource inventory and tracking tool.

Then, there is also Blazer, a reservation service that offers OpenStack users something akin to AWS Reserved Instances. In a private cloud, the use case for a feature is a bit different, though. But as some of the private clouds got bigger, some users found that they needed to be able to guarantee resources to run some of their regular, overnight batch jobs or data analytics workloads, for example.

As far as resource management goes, it’s also worth highlighting Sahara, which now makes it easier to provision Hadoop clusters on OpenStack.

In previous releases, one of the focus areas for the project was to improve the update experience. OpenStack is obviously a very complex system, so bringing it up to the latest version is also a bit of a complex undertaking. These improvements are now paying off. “Nobody even knows we are running Stein right now,” Vexxhost CEO Mohammed Nasar, who made an early bet on OpenStack for his service, told me. “And I think that’s a good thing. You want to be least impactful, especially when you’re in such a core infrastructure level. […] That’s something the projects are starting to become more and more aware of but it’s also part of the OpenStack software in general becoming much more stable.”

As usual, this release launched only a few weeks before the OpenStack Foundation hosts its bi-annual Summit in Denver. Since the OpenStack Foundation has expanded its scope beyond the OpenStack project, though, this event also focuses on a broader range of topics around open-source infrastructure. It’ll be interesting to see how this will change the dynamics at the event.


Open-source communities fight over telco market

When you think of MWC Barcelona, chances are you’re thinking about the newest smartphones and other mobile gadgets, but that’s only half the story. Actually, it’s probably far less than half the story because the majority of the business that’s done at MWC is enterprise telco business. Not too long ago, that business was all about selling expensive proprietary hardware. Today, it’s about moving all of that into software — and a lot of that software is open source.

It’s maybe no surprise then that this year, the Linux Foundation (LF) has its own booth at MWC. It’s not massive, but it’s big enough to have its own meeting space. The booth is shared by the three LF projects: the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), Hyperleger and Linux Foundation Networking, the home of many of the foundational projects like ONAP and the Open Platform for NFV (OPNFV) that power many a modern network. And with the advent of 5G, there’s a lot of new market share to grab here.

To discuss the CNCF’s role at the event, I sat down with Dan Kohn, the executive director of the CNCF.

At MWC, the CNCF launched its testbed for comparing the performance of virtual network functions on OpenStack and what the CNCF calls cloud-native network functions, using Kubernetes (with the help of bare-metal host Packet). The project’s results — at least so far — show that the cloud-native container-based stack can handle far more network functions per second than the competing OpenStack code.

“The message that we are sending is that Kubernetes as a universal platform that runs on top of bare metal or any cloud, most of your virtual network functions can be ported over to cloud-native network functions,” Kohn said. “All of your operating support system, all of your business support system software can also run on Kubernetes on the same cluster.”

OpenStack, in case you are not familiar with it, is another massive open-source project that helps enterprises manage their own data center software infrastructure. One of OpenStack’s biggest markets has long been the telco industry. There has always been a bit of friction between the two foundations, especially now that the OpenStack Foundation has opened up its organizations to projects that aren’t directly related to the core OpenStack projects.

I asked Kohn if he is explicitly positioning the CNCF/Kubernetes stack as an OpenStack competitor. “Yes, our view is that people should be running Kubernetes on bare metal and that there’s no need for a middle layer,” he said — and that’s something the CNCF has never stated quite as explicitly before but that was always playing in the background. He also acknowledged that some of this friction stems from the fact that the CNCF and the OpenStack foundation now compete for projects.

OpenStack Foundation, unsurprisingly, doesn’t agree. “Pitting Kubernetes against OpenStack is extremely counterproductive and ignores the fact that OpenStack is already powering 5G networks, in many cases in combination with Kubernetes,” OpenStack COO Mark Collier told me. “It also reflects a lack of understanding about what OpenStack actually does, by suggesting that it’s simply a virtual machine orchestrator. That description is several years out of date. Moving away from VMs, which makes sense for many workloads, does not mean moving away from OpenStack, which manages bare metal, networking and authentication in these environments through the Ironic, Neutron and Keystone services.”

Similarly, ex-OpenStack Foundation board member (and Mirantis co-founder) Boris Renski told me that “just because containers can replace VMs, this doesn’t mean that Kubernetes replaces OpenStack. Kubernetes’ fundamental design assumes that something else is there that abstracts away low-level infrastructure, and is meant to be an application-aware container scheduler. OpenStack, on the other hand, is specifically designed to abstract away low-level infrastructure constructs like bare metal, storage, etc.”

This overall theme continued with Kohn and the CNCF taking a swipe at Kata Containers, the first project the OpenStack Foundation took on after it opened itself up to other projects. Kata Containers promises to offer a combination of the flexibility of containers with the additional security of traditional virtual machines.

“We’ve got this FUD out there around Kata and saying: telco’s will need to use Kata, a) because of the noisy neighbor problem and b) because of the security,” said Kohn. “First of all, that’s FUD and second, micro-VMs are a really interesting space.”

He believes it’s an interesting space for situations where you are running third-party code (think AWS Lambda running Firecracker) — but telcos don’t typically run that kind of code. He also argues that Kubernetes handles noisy neighbors just fine because you can constrain how many resources each container gets.

It seems both organizations have a fair argument here. On the one hand, Kubernetes may be able to handle some use cases better and provide higher throughput than OpenStack. On the other hand, OpenStack handles plenty of other use cases, too, and this is a very specific use case. What’s clear, though, is that there’s quite a bit of friction here, which is a shame.


OpenStack’s latest release focuses on bare metal clouds and easier upgrades

The OpenStack Foundation today released the 18th version of its namesake open-source cloud infrastructure software. The project has had its ups and downs, but it remains the de facto standard for running and managing large private clouds.

What’s been interesting to watch over the years is how the project’s releases have mirrored what’s been happening in the wider world of enterprise software. The core features of the platform (compute, storage, networking) are very much in place at this point, allowing the project to look forward and to add new features that enterprises are now requesting.

The new release, dubbed Rocky, puts an emphasis on bare metal clouds, for example. While the majority of enterprises still run their workloads in virtual machines, a lot of them are now looking at containers as an alternative with less overhead and the promise of faster development cycles. Many of these enterprises want to run those containers on bare metal clouds and the project is reacting to this with its “Ironic” project that offers all of the management and automation features necessary to run these kinds of deployments.

“There’s a couple of big features that landed in Ironic in the Rocky release cycle that we think really set it up well for OpenStack bare metal clouds to be the foundation for both running VMs and containers,” OpenStack Foundation VP of marketing and community Lauren Sell told me. 

Ironic itself isn’t new, but in today’s update, Ironic gets user-managed BIOS settings (to configure power management, for example) and RAM disk support for high-performance computing workloads. Magnum, OpenStack’s service for using container engines like Docker Swarm, Apache Mesos and Kubernetes, is now also a Kubernetes certified installer, meaning that users can be confident that OpenStack and Kubernetes work together just like a user would expect.

Another trend that’s becoming quite apparent is that many enterprises that build their own private clouds do so because they have very specific hardware needs. Often, that includes GPUs and FPGAs, for example, for machine learning workloads. To make it easier for these businesses to use OpenStack, the project now includes a lifecycle management service for these kinds of accelerators.

“Specialized hardware is getting a lot of traction right now,” OpenStack CTO Mark Collier noted. “And what’s interesting is that FPGAs have been around for a long time but people are finding out that they are really useful for certain types of AI, because they’re really good at doing the relatively simple math that you need to repeat over and over again millions of times. It’s kind of interesting to see this kind of resurgence of certain types of hardware that maybe was seen as going to be disrupted by cloud and now it’s making a roaring comeback.”

With this update, the OpenStack project is also enabling easier upgrades, something that was long a daunting process for enterprises. Because it was so hard, many chose to simply not update to the latest releases and often stayed a few releases behind. Now, the so-called Fast Forward Upgrade feature allows these users to get on new releases faster, even if they are well behind the project’s own cycle. Oath, which owns TechCrunch, runs a massive OpenStack cloud, for example, and the team recently upgraded a 20,000-core deployment from Juno (the 10th OpenStack release) to Ocata (the 15th release).

The fact that Vexxhost, a Canadian cloud provider, is already offering support for the Rocky release in its new Silicon Valley cloud today is yet another sign that updates are getting a bit easier (and the whole public cloud side of OpenStack, too, often gets overlooked, but continues to grow).


OpenStack spins out its Zuul open source CI/CD platform

There are few open-source projects as complex as OpenStack, which essentially provides large companies with all the tools to run the equivalent of the core AWS services in their own data centers. To build OpenStack’s various systems the team also had to develop some of its own DevOps tools, and, in 2012, that meant developing Zuul, an open-source continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) platform. Now, with the release of Zuul v3, the team decided to decouple Zuul from OpenStack and run it as an independent project. It’s not quite leaving the OpenStack ecosystem, though, as it will still be hosted by the OpenStack Foundation.

Now all of that may seem a bit complicated, but at this point, the OpenStack Foundation is simply the home of OpenStack and other related infrastructure projects. The first one of those was obviously OpenStack itself, followed by the Kata Containers project late last year. Zuul is simply the third of these projects.

The general concept behind Zuul is to provide developers with a system for automatically merging, building and testing new changes to a project. It’s extensible and supports a number of different development platforms, including GitHub and the Gerrit code review and project management tool.

Current contributors include BMW, GitHub, GoDaddy, Huawei, Red Hat and SUSE. “The wide adoption of CI/CD in our software projects is the foundation to deliver high-quality software in time by automating every integral part of the development cycle from simple commit checks to full release processes,” said BMW software engineer Tobias Henkel. “Our CI/CD development team at BMW is proud to be part of the Zuul community and will continue to be active contributors of the Zuul OSS project.”

The spin-off of Zuul comes at an interesting time in the CI/CD community, which is currently spoiled for choice. Spinnaker, Google and Netflix are betting on an open source CD platform that solves some of the same problems as Zuul, for example, while Jenkins and similar projects continue to go strong, too. The Zuul project notes that its focus is more strongly on multi-repo gating, which makes it ideal handling very large and complex projects. A number of representatives of all of these open-source projects are meeting at the OpenDev conference in Vancouver, Canada that’s running in parallel with the semi-annual OpenStack Summit there, and my guess is that we’ll hear quite a bit more about all of these projects in the coming days and weeks.


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